Sports

Panthers Bear down

Danville co-op boosts Mt. Pleasant football program

The five Danville seniors who play for the 2020 Mt. Pleasant football team, left to right: Klayton Kleinkopf, Brady Hall, Grifen Molle, Cole Jarrett and Thomas Stewart. (Submitted photo)
The five Danville seniors who play for the 2020 Mt. Pleasant football team, left to right: Klayton Kleinkopf, Brady Hall, Grifen Molle, Cole Jarrett and Thomas Stewart. (Submitted photo)
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MT. PLEASANT — Ahead of the 2018 high school football season, the Mt. Pleasant and Danville school districts agreed to football co-op. Three years later, the Panthers couldn’t be any happier with how the deal turned out.

The Mt. Pleasant football program has seen an uptick in success, finishing .500 or above in the three seasons the Bears have been part of the program, and a part of that leap could be attributed to the added boost the Danville students bring.

When the original deal happened, Danville had just been dropped from the West Burlington-Notre Dame football team, which was straddling the line between a Class 2A and Class 3A school. Danville had joined the squad for a short stint after their program had to disband because of low numbers.

“When they started looking for a place to go, we were more than happy to have them,” said Mt. Pleasant head coach Shawn Striegel. “We were excited that they wanted to play the game of football, and we wanted to give them the opportunity.”

This season, the Danville crew has been as important than ever. There are currently five seniors; Klayton Kleinkopf, Brady Hall, Grifen Molle, Cole Jarrett, and Thomas Stewart, who play for Mt. Pleasant. Without that group, the last couple of seasons might have looked a lot different.

Offensively, Danville players make up two of the Top-6 rushers on the team. Kleinkopf is the second-highest Mt. Pleasant rusher, with 115 yards and a touchdown this season, and Molle is sixth, with 55 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

On defense, the Danville five stick out even further. The Bears make up half of the Top-8 Mt. Pleasant tacklers, with Kleiknopf leading the team with 45.5 tackles, Hall coming second with 29, Jarrett in sixth, with 17, and Molle tied for eighth on the team with 16.

The Bears are also a big part of special teams, especially Hall, who rose to the starting kicker spot last year and even led the state in PATs in 2019.

Kleinkopf, who Coach Striegel calls the “quarterback of the defense,” was the only one of the five to play in 2018 when the co-op began. After spending their freshman year with WB/ND, the trio of Hall, Molle and Jarrett sat out a year, but they were quick to join back up for their junior years. Hall says the first crop of Bears to play at Mt. Pleasant had good things to say.

“They just told me it was a lot more fun than at West Burlington,” Hall said. “More of a family.”

Kleinkopf says convincing the others to get back on the field was an easy task.

“I didn’t really have to talk them into it,” Kleinkopf said. “I just told them it was a really good program, and that they were missing out.”

Stewart, who has been fighting injuries his entire high school career, says he was ready to jump when he heard about the co-op. Stewart is originally from Mt. Pleasant, and the idea of becoming a Panther again sounded appealing.

“When I found out they were going with Mt. Pleasant, I wanted to play with them,” Stewart said. “It feels good to be back with old friends.”

The players say everyone fits right in. Whether they take classes in Danville or Mt. Pleasant during the day, when they come together as a team, it’s all one unit.

“They make you feel more at home,” said Jarrett. “Like you’re part of the school, and part of the team.”

The Danville kids get out of school at 3 p.m. every day to buy themselves enough time to get to Mt. Pleasant for practice. Molle says there is a five-man driving rotation. But once they put the Mt. Pleasant pads on over their often Danville blue-colored undershirts, it’s one team fighting for one common goal.

The Danville crew says they are happier here than previous arrangements. The WB/ND co-op didn’t feel right for many of them, but at Mt. Pleasant, they fit right in.

“it’s more of a family here,” said Molle. “You’re closer with the guys.”

And whether the Panthers are carpooling from Danville or driving over from Mt. Pleasant High School, they are all driven by the same thing; the motivation to win. The team goes into the playoffs at 3-3 overall and will host Benton on Friday night. A win would give Mt. Pleasant the opportunity to show they are for real with a second round date at state-ranked North Scott.

“Everybody is looking at us like we’re a 3-3 team and we’re nothing special,” Kleinkopf said. “We just have to go out there and prove we can play with anybody.”